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Squawks & HeadlinesWhat are These Giant Concrete Arrows Across the American Landscape?

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What are These Giant Concrete Arrows Across the American Landscape?

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In the 1920s, America began coast-to-coast Airmail service, but the pioneer pilots had trouble navigating the route, since navigation charts of the day were fugazi and you couldn't exactly pull over to ask a farmer for directions. And traveling at night, when it would have been most efficient, or in bad weather was impossible. To solve this Congress then funded these gi-normous arrow-shaped Airmail Beacons, some up to 70 feet long, to trace a route across the country. (www.core77.com) More...

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hottap
tom nelson 6
We have one just outside Reno, west to Mogul, on a ridge above the river. I rode my bike there and wondered what it was.
39.510021, -119.922407
mrvair
mrvair 2
Tom,
Plugged your coordinates into Google Earth and found your arrow. Really cool. Thanks....
ad8916
Aaron Donnelly 1
How close can you get to by car? I would like to take my 84 year old father to see it?
PhotoFinish
PhotoFinish 1
You can probably get up there with a good off-road vehicle. There seems to be a well worn dirt road the whole way up, starting at a cul-de-sac near 42 River Front Dr, Reno.

You should consult a good satellite map (eg. Google maps) to see the layout of the actual roads before you go out off-roading up to the arrow.
TomJohn316
Tom Johnson 4
Where do the airway beacons still light the night sky? In mountainous western Montana the Aeronautics Division of the Montana Department of Transportation operates seventeen airway (off airport) beacons. You'll find them all on the Great Falls Sectional Chart. And you'll find airway beacons at museums such as the Western New Mexico Aviation Heritage Museum at the Grants-Milan Municipal Airport next to Interstate 40 at Grants, NM. The adjacent generator shed includes a Kohler gasoline-powered 1.5 Kw electric generator. Two of these powered many of the airway beacons. Since many beacons were in remote locations, the beacon assembly included an automatic bulb-changer that swiveled a backup bulb into place when the first bulb burned out. Airway beacon towers are also features of air museums at Cottage Grove and at Hood River in Oregon.
JaTexas
Jake Angelo 1
Amazing! Thanks for posting this.
JaTexas
Jake Angelo 1
I am headed to Google Earth using your map photo to see what I can find... :)
whip5209
Ken McIntyre 1
Thanks for this fascinating article!
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
Very interesting info. I had heard of them, but have never seen this site.. Great info. thanks.
flyerh
flyerh 1
Thirty years ago while travelling by car from New Delhi to Agra in India, I noticed very tall posts made of mud brick and spaced horizon distance from each other. In the days before roads these were placed to be guides across trackless territory. Something like your wagon trains used the buttes out west to guide them. Whether flying or driving they found ways to get there.
sburchell
Steven Burchell 1
There is also a tower to the east of Salt Lake that is visible from the city. On the north side of Emigration Canyon.
sburchell
Steven Burchell 1
There is also a tower to the east of Salt Lake that is visible from the city. On the north side of Emigration Canyon.
johncook1
john cook 1
Livermore ca. airport LVK has a old light tower from the airmail days.
But it was moved there from the old location.
mycessna
Richard Parmelee 1
Well..........Apparently it worked back then...............for awhile.
zennermd
Michael Zenner 1
Has anyone tried to follow these for fun?
aqqn
Alain QQN 1
good to know that something can help you on the groud
MultiComm
Spencer McLennan 1
Add that route to my bucket list...
MultiComm
Spencer McLennan 1
If anyone knows of additional markers, let me know. I would like to plot them all on my Google. Maybe I will get to visit a few someday.
BlueBaron
Bruce Thompson 1
Are these markers depicted on Sectionals
WeatherWise
WeatherWise 1
Ahhhh, the good old days...
Joven
Jorge Barriere 1
We've come a long way to the new navegation procedures, ADS-B ITP.
MultiComm
Spencer McLennan 1
Add that route to my bucket list...
joecoastie
joecoastie 1
Gawd, I hate to admit it, but I remember seeing the airway beacons. There was on on the top of the mountain above Strasburg, VA. I climbed the tower once back in the late '60s. There was no light on it by then tho'.
ejandlinda
Elwood Johnson 1
I've tried to find the couple left on the route in the west Utah, Wyq, but never been lucky.
raydorais
Raymond Dorais 1
Very interesting.
Thank you !
jkatten
Jeff Katten 1
Classic Sulak find!
Ford33
Barbara Ford 1
Very interesting to read about the arrows. There is still operating beacon in Missoula, Montana.
mrgraff
Robert Graff 1
Apparently there's an arrow about an hour's drive west of Albuquerque. I'm going to try to find it on Saturday.
reignman40
Joe Morrison 1
There are 3 or 4 just in the St George, UT area.
reignman40
Joe Morrison 1
There are 3 or 4 just in the St George, UT area. I believe they are 10 miles apart. I think the one in the first picture is the one near Quail creek reservoir.
GregLev
Greg Leversha 3
ADSB is not navigation. It's traffic avoidance and control

GNSS is navigation
TomJohn316
Tom Johnson 3
For a good listing of many of the airway beacon sites, go here:
http://surveymarks.planetzhanna.com/airway-beacons-list-western-u-s/
And there you will find a link to the Eastern U.S. list. But not every site is on those lists. And not every beacon site had a concrete arrow. Some beacon sites had only a concrete base roughly eleven feet square. Some had no surface concrete with the four tower legs anchored in underground concrete. At many sites there are no traces remaining today. Regional aeronautical charts (predecessors of the WAC) from 1943-1945 for the 48 states show approximately 2,038 numbered airway beacons with 333 of these at airfields of various types and 1,705 beacons between airfields.
MultiComm
Spencer McLennan 1
Nice...Thanks!
geroldn
geroldn 2
In the 1920s the average life expectancy of an air mail pilot was 9 months! WW1 surplus planes + lousy weather forecasting + non-existent navigation radios = The good old days?
TomJohn316
Tom Johnson 2
Elwwod, Here are three concrete arrows on the original transcontinental lighted airway west of Salt Lake City. You can see them on Google Earth or Bing Maps or in person! (1) San Francisco-SLC Beacon 57 about 28 miles NW of Grantsville at 40° 49.590', -112° 54.345'. A little bit of a climb required. The airway turned here so the arrow is "bent." (2) Beacon 59 about 14 miles NW of Grantsville at 40° 45.002', -112° 38.894'. An easy quarter-mile walk from parking at the electric substation. (3) Beacon 61A about one mile NE of I-80 Exit 99 at 40° 42.273', -112° 15.218'. This arrow has two tails because the airways from San Francisco and Los Angeles merged here! I parked at 40° 41.472', -112° 15.154', walked across the railroad and followed the trails I had plotted on Google Earth. Good exploring to you!
WeatherWise
WeatherWise 2
I was only commenting from the standpoint of childhood nostalgia, when, as a young boy, I can remember commercial airliners navigating by the old radio beacon method. I wasn't referring specifically to Air Mail or the dangers of cross country flight during that time period. So relax!
geroldn
geroldn 2
Didn't mean to sound like a smart ass. I fly regularly between Vermont and southeast Ohio. I usually follow some of the air mail route across PA (or fairly close) and stop for fuel in PA at airports like - Williamsport, Altoona, Lock Haven, Bradford, State College, Allegheny County, etc. The Allegheny Mountains on a nice day looks harmless from the air, but I sometimes try to imagine it at night, in winter, and in an open cockpit ... Some of the worst icing conditions in the country come off of the Great Lakes through this area. If I lived in the 1920s and wanted to visit my family in Ohio, I'd be on a train!
MultiComm
Spencer McLennan 1
These are 15 and 20 miles apart respectively which makes me wonder what the standard truly was...not 10 miles apart and not 40 miles apart as a previous comment mentioned.
TomJohn316
Tom Johnson 1
Good question, Spencer. The 3 airway beacon sites described in western Utah are those where concrete arrows remain today. There were other airway beacons. Between the Wendover and the Salt Lake City airports in 1944 there were 8 rotating beacons and 2 flashing (non-rotating) beacons. Two of the rotating beacons (56 & 60) were at the CAA Intermediate (emergency) airfields at Knolls and Grantsville. The gaps between beacons on this route were 14, 15, 15, 9, 8, 7, 8, 12, 13, 6 and 11 statute miles for an average gap of 10.7 miles.
smoki
smoki 1
The only thing good about it was less government and more freedom. Those ole boys that flew those flying machines on those routes relying on those primitive ground nav aids probably didn't think those were good ole days when they kept getting lost and losing friends in smoking holes.
TomJohn316
Tom Johnson 1
The only airway beacons on current sectionals are those still operating in western Montana but the state Aeronautics Division personnel tell me that none of them have concrete arrows. I have never seen any of the remaining original arrows depicted on current sectionals. The airway beacons were on the sectionals and regionals (WAC's) of the 30's through the 50's when the beacons were operating but did not depict which had arrows. The arrows shown on those charts only depict the directions of the course lights. Bruce, if you tell me what area you live in or fly over I may (or may not) be able to find a close arrow. Here in the Bay Area of northern California there is an arrow less than 4 miles from my home!
BlueBaron
Bruce Thompson 1
Thanks Tom, I fly the Gulf Coast mostly and based at KNEW. It would be an interesting flight to make from coast to coast and document (similar to the Flight of the Cannibal Queen, by Stephen Coonts. I do remember flying instrument airways via A's and N's in the late 50's with my father, but never by night beacons
mrvair
mrvair 1
Bruce...I agree. Flying one of those routes `coast to coast' would be so cool. There's just something about those arrows that is so nostalgic. I didn't know about "The Flight of the Cannibal Queen" so I just ordered a copy from Amazon!! Thanks for your post.
PhotoFinish
PhotoFinish 1
It should be possible to program each arrow's coordinates into a GPS flight plan, and go from one location to the next to the next and so on, from coast to coast, looking for the fossilized remains of each pad.
Moviela
Ric Wernicke 1
Why were these necessary? The compass as a navigation aid was about 1000 yeas old when planes took to the air. The cheesesteak and the sextant both came from Philadelphia, the latter in 1757. Surely by the 20th century accurate navigation would have a become a well practiced art.

What did the pilots that flew airmail @ five cents per half ounce to Hawaii use to get there? Floating arrows in the Pacific?
murrayhill3
Jim Murray 0
When the Interstate highway system was built in the 1950s every five-mile strip had to have within it a stretch 5,280 feet (one mile) to accommodate military aircraft. It was paid for under the National Defense Act, the only way Ike could have had it done.
rodneyraleigh
Rod Raleigh 0
Medicine Bow, Wyoming still has the beacon tower standing at the base of the arrow, although the lens has been shot out by knuckleheads. The generator shack is mostly intact also.
GARNETT
GARNETT CROSS 0
I went into Google Earth and Asked for Aviation Arrows Across USA. One came up in UT on top of a mesa. Very inovative inovative indeed.
MultiComm
Spencer McLennan 1
I wonder how many different routes existed as this one is much farther away than the rest that were posted in this thread.
TomJohn316
Tom Johnson 1
Many routes existed! In 1943-45 there were five routes in Utah: Los Angeles-Salt Lake City; Salt Lake-Great Falls; Salt Lake-Omaha; Salt Lake-Pendleton and San Francisco-Salt Lake. The arrows near St. George, Utah were on an earlier Los Angeles-Salt Lake alignment that was later moved to the west over Enterprise. All or portions of 14 routes existed in Texas. In Ohio there were 9 routes, but only two each in Nevada and Wyoming. The original transcontinental lighted airway consisted of four named segments: San Francisco-Salt Lake; Salt Lake-Omaha; Omaha-Chicago and Chicago-New York. Routes were generally named and beacon sites were numbered west to east and south to north.